Re: [asa] Dowd, Miracles, and ID-TE/ASA-List Relations

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Tue Apr 21 2009 - 10:43:11 EDT

Cameron asks another really good question, although I do not agree (in
general) with the way in which he words one part of his post, as follows:

<Now if it's true that many of the regular posters here have serious doubts
about quite a few of the aforementioned miracles, then it should not be a
mystery to TEs and others here why certain ID-Christians have accused people
here of being "liberals", of being sell-outs to the Enlightenment, of being
willing to re-write Christian theology to avoid being ridiculed by higher
critics or evolutionary biologists or what have you. Again, in saying this
I am not making theological judgements, but describing what I see as the
genuine motivation of some Christian ID critics of the views that have been
expressed here.>

I reply first to this. Cameron, I heard this type of comment a great deal
when I was in regular contact with lots of ID advocates. It gives voice to
a claim that was wrong then, and it's wrong now -- despite a few instances I
could name (but won't) where it may be true. As a broad generalization it
just is not true, at least not for the large majority of people I have met
in the science/religion "dialogue," whether they are ASA members, other
Christians, Jews, agnostics, or something else. Backbone is just not the
issue here, although (again) if I had a buck for every time I've heard that
I'd be considering retirement. The issue for most folks I know is simply
what they believe, not what they are afraid of other people saying if the
say they believe it. These issues (as you know) are not simple, at least
not for most people who know a lot about the issues. People draw different
conclusions, depending partly on which conclusions (of science or biblical
scholarship or philosophy of science or something else) they accept and
which they don't, and depending on their own overall religious attitude
(this latter is a key point, often overlooked), esp concerning personal
faith and how that is understood individually. In other words, they have
been persuaded personally and intellectually that a particular view makes
the most sense; they are not looking over their shoulders or hiding their
true beliefs from anyone.

The reason (I believe) that the spurious and frankly insulting charge of
"spinelessness" keeps coming up, is that two factors encourage it. (1) The
most prestigious institutions of higher learning do tend to impose
orthodoxies on people (I am not implying that other institutions behave much
differently; for every Harvard there is also a Liberty), and to some extent
there is a selection effect about who gets to teach where. But the
selection effect means that, in most cases, the people who get those jobs
actually agree with the orthodoxy, not that they hide their beliefs to get
those jobs. Those who don't hide their beliefs are sometimes hired anyway,
b/c they're too good to turn away, but usually they aren't. (2) I agree
that many ID advocates are very conservative Christians; no one should be
surprised by this, though ID hardly requires that this be true. A lot of
those people would be among those who are left out in the selection process
just described. IMO, what tends to happen is this. Those people in this
category are sometimes led to think, gee, which of my beliefs would I need
to hide or abandon in order to get that job? I bet all those TEs are just
trying to appease their atheist friends to get better jobs... This ignores
of course the fact that most TEs probably arrive at their beliefs in a
process that has no less integrity than the process that led most IDs to
their conclusions. If this analysis is correct, then the problem is (1),
not lack of backbone on the part of TEs or anyone else who does not hold the
same set of views and attitudes (both are relevant here) that many IDs

My other comment responds briefly to this point of Cameron's:

<There seem to be various reasons for this. One of them is that some
posters here prefer to turn the conversation away from the facticity of, and
toward the possible theoretical explanation of, purported miracles, so that
the discussion tends to become: "If a virgin birth occurred, it might be
accounted for in naturalistic terms by means of a genetic anomaly such as
..."; "If the Red Sea parted, it might be explicable naturalistically by a
quantum-statistical freak"; etc. Rarely do people (though I know Ted Davis
is an exception, and I believe there are one or two others) say clear things
like: "I believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead, and that the Red
Sea actually parted in 1290 B.C." And in the rare cases where someone just
bluntly asserts the historical fact of a miracle, it is rarely any miracle
other than the Resurrection. It is almost as if some here think that the
Resurrection is the only "required miracle" of the Christian faith.>

Cameron, there are excellent reasons IMO why the miracle of the
Resurrection is more convincing than most (perhaps all) others. It would
take a book for this, and the book I recommend is NT Wright's "The
Resurrection of the Son of God." As an historian, I am convinced that
Wright's analysis is absolutely on target; I am also convinced as an
historian that the church itself would not exist at all, had there been no
bodily resurrection. That's probably mainly why everyone focuses so much on
that one, but there is also the fact (as I believe it to be) that it
represents the crucial dividing line -- one ignored IMO when advocates of ID
lump all TEs into one group, regardless of what they think about God,
nature, and Jesus -- between real believers in divine transcendence and
those who merely give lip service to it. Polkinghorne makes that point (in
other language) somewhere, and he's dead right.

Once that great miracle has been fully accepted, one is open to considering
many others, but (as with the resurrection) for many Christians they are
judged individually rather than collectively. I think that this particular
approach, rather than any specific conclusion from that approach, that
bothers those ID proponents you described. They are probably much more
comfortable with a blanket acceptance of any and all miracle stories in the
Bible. I am not being critical of that here, nor critical of those ID
proponents as individual believers for deciding that their approach makes
more sense than someone else's. But, I am critical of criticism directed at
the courage or depth of conviction of those who take such an approach.

Speaking for myself, I agree with George Murphy that the exodus happened
(to cite an example of an OT miracles or rather a bundle of miracles),
including the parting of the sea of reeds. (Please note, however, Cameron,
that in this instance the Bible itself explicitly gives a natural mechanism
for this, namely that a strong east wind blew all night, and consequently
some scientists have sought to understand it accordingly. An interesting
example is Doron Nof, who holds an endowed chair at Florida State. Your
implication that efforts to explain away miracles in this way amounts to
truckling to orthodoxy is contradicted by this particular Biblical case and
also by many others I won't go into here and now.)

An instance of a NT miracle that I find very hard to accept, is all those
dead people walking around Jerusalem after the resurrection (Matt 27).
Whatever that was about, as I say, I find that one very hard to accept as a
literal historical event. I fail to see what it does, theologically, and
what we would lose if it weren't included in Matthew's gospel in the first
place. Others of course may well differ with me on this.

In general, then, Cameron, I don't think you will be very satisfied by
responses to your question. Individual answers are likely to be, well,
individual. You're probably looking for something more principled, such as
"if the Bible says it, I believe it straight out," or "there is never enough
evidence for any rational person to believe any miracle story." At the same
time, frankly, I would be awfully surprised if most ID proponents did not
also find themselves somewhere in between those two statements. At least
several are presently employed by institutions that probably have an
expectation about this, either stated directly or implied in some other
statement, and then a selection effect opposite (1) would be operative, and
some TEs would probably ask, gee, what would I need to believe in order to
teach at the university of Z, instead of working for this lousy corporation?
 How could I convince myself that I believe that? Which of my beliefs would
I have to deny?

If you want to see some really serious, often very thoughtful, conversation
about this among ASA members and folks of similar beliefs and attitudes,
Cameron, my suggestion is to browse the archives of our journal, going back
as far as you want to. This type of thinking is much better done, IMO, in a
carefully written article than in a quickly typed email or blog. We've
published numerous such articles over the years, on many aspects of the
miracle issue generally but also on specific Bible stories. Bernard Ramm's
book, now 55 years old, also referenced lots of that type of literature by
topic. He was an ASA member, and I strongly recommend that you study his
And, finally, it would be interesting for you to call for a similar
conversation over on UD. Let individual ID proponents state their views on
specific biblical stories. Again, I'd be surprised if they all ended up in
one place, either. Care to take me up on that? Of course the same caveat
applies: published writings will be a much more reliable and helpful guide
to a range of opinion, than any given email statement or blog.


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Received on Tue Apr 21 10:44:02 2009

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